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Rose is a Rose is a Rose: How to Search the Meanings of Words and Phrase Origins


rosa turbinata = Frankfort rose., Digital ID 1111037, New York Public LibraryMy hope is that this blog will serve as a useful starting point for anyone seeking or researching the origin of words and/or phrases, also called etymology. Both print-based and web-based sources are included.

Here are some web resources on word and phrase origins and a few print resources.

Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
The online edition of the 20-volume dictionary, access with your library card.

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (1896)
Full text at
Browse and search online with your library card with Credo Reference
Browse online at or
From the 1894 work of the same name; this is extensively cross-referenced, and excellent for phrases which have their roots in literature or mythology.

Dictionary of Contemporary Slang
Tony Thorne (2005)
Browse and search online with your library card with Credo Reference
" with drugs, sport and contemporary society, as well as favourite slang topics such as sex and bodily functions."

Word Origins: The Hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z
John Ayto (2005)
Browse and search online with your library card with Credo Reference
"The purpose of this book is to uncover the often surprising connections between elements of the English lexicon that have become obscured by centuries of language change - the links in our word-web that join such unlikely partners as, for instance, beef and cow, bacteria and imbecile, and bishop and spy."

Word Histories and Mysteries: From Abracadabra to Zeus
editors of American Heritage Dictionaries (2004)
Browse and search online with your library card with Credo Reference
"provides a panoramic view of the unique richness of English, uncovering the origins of five hundred everyday words whose surprising and often amusing stories offer insights into the history of humankind."

Additional Web Resources

Fagan Finder
Provides links to quotation, proverb, aphorism, and slogan sites, and the means for searching particular types of quotes.

Online Etymology Dictionary
The basic sources of this work are Weekley's "An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English," Klein's "A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language," "Oxford English Dictionary" (second edition), "Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology," Holthausen's "Etymologisches Wörterbuch der Englischen Sprache," and Kipfer and Chapman's "Dictionary of American Slang."

The Phrase Finder
Use this site to find English phrases and sayings related to a particular word, learn the meaning of a phrase, or determine the origin of a phrase. It also includes a book list of dictionaries, thesauri, and word phrase and origin books.

The Word Detective
This is the online version of the column of the same name; it covers word and phrase origins, as well as general language questions. The site features the newest columns, an impressive archive of past columns, and an "Ask the Word Detective" link, by which readers can send in their questions.

Word for Word
Another online column featuring word and phrase origins; it has an archive of past questions and answers, as well as an archived forum.

This site primarily features the columns of Richard Lederer.

Wilton's Word & Phrase Origins
This web page includes an extensive collection of well-researched word and phrase origins, from "Bob's Your Uncle" to the "Whole Nine Yards". The author also takes questions via e-mail.

World Wide Words
This extensive site provides information on the origins of numerous words and phrases. It's best to use the site index if you want to quickly look for a particular word or phrase, rather than the indexes to each individual section. The author also accepts questions via email, and maintains a mailing list.

Additional Print Resources

Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary: With Additional Material from "A Thesaurus of Old English"
edited by Christian Kay (2009)
This is the reference source on word origin. It is several volumes long; for each word, it provides the definitions, the etymology, and several examples of historical usage which show how the word has changed over time.

Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origin
Harper and Row (1988)
Provides the etymology of both words, phrases with explanations of the origins and meanings of words and expressions used today. Entertaining reading.

Here's to the rose / words by Wm. Richard Goodall ; music by H. Sylvester Krouse.,Here's to the rose in the earthen cup, here's to the faded flower [first line of song], Digital ID 1256225, New York Public LibraryIf you wish to locate similar books on library shelves, browse the 422s.

Suggested subject searches:

Still want more readings on words? Check out the Reader's Den book discussion of The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary.


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Great post

As an etymology fan, I appreciate seeing all these resources!


A most excellent blog.

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